Study Tour adventures continued…
Our first stop on Wednesday was to Finance Watch, a place that’s essentially a lobbying agency whose goal is to reform the way that finances and banks are regulated in the EU. They focus on informing politicians, other non-governmental organizations, and the general public about economic issues and ways they think these issues should be resolved. What was cool about Finance Watch is that they are a small group of about 10 people, all with backgrounds in finance, who help keep the European Commission in check regarding their financial policies.
That afternoon my group got to interview Tobias Gras from the Danish Agricultural Council and talk to him about agricultural policy and lobbying. We had a great discussion on how Denmark has been able to grow food in such an efficient way that they have surplus enough to feed 20 million people when they only have a population of 5 million. We also learned that money isn’t nearly as important to lobbying in the EU as it is in the US. In both Denmark and the EU lobbyists get more done when they have a great argument, not when they spend the most money on a politician. (How refreshing is that to hear?)
Check this out for more cool info on Danish Agriculture!
We spent the morning at the European External Action Service learning about digital diplomacy, EU-Russia Communications, and EU-US Communications. In short, the EEAS has a small military force that is supplied by the Member States, but focuses more on finding solutions to crises through diplomacy rather than military action. The EEAS also has a lot of power because they have the ability to represent all 28 member states in all areas of the world which helps the smaller states that might not normally be able to afford having an embassy in less populated areas of the world.
Our discussion on EU-Russia communications, though not as important for our course, was interesting to learn about how the EU counters the propaganda that Russia produces. Eventually the conversation became one about free speech, separating propaganda from the truth, and what actually qualifies something as propaganda. Everyone in our class seemed to thoroughly enjoy this presentation because our lecturer knew so much and made the conversation as entertaining as possible by being completely honest with us instead of strictly giving us diplomatic answers like some of our other presenters had done.
Lastly, our EU-US communications discussion centered on the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration and their relationship with the EU. Since its still so early in his administration, the EU doesn’t know how future Trans-Atlantic partnerships will turn out when 6 months ago it seemed as if everything would remain the same (assuming that Hillary Clinton won the election). Overall, the EU is remaining positive in regards to their relationship with the US, but they’re also watching to make sure Trump continues to negotiate with the EU as a whole rather than with individual member states.
Friday was our last day in Brussels and let’s just say everyone was a little tired after the week we had…
Thankfully we only had one lecture by Tore Keller, an EU correspondent for the Danish business paper “Dagbladet Børsen.” He interviews businessmen both in Brussels and in Denmark to find out their opinions on EU legislation that deals with business policies and economic issues. We got to talk a lot about the media in regards to European politics and how there’s not nearly as much hostility towards the media as there currently is in America. He also gave some great advice on writing stories about a rather uninteresting topic: when you focus on a big EU story through a personal story by a business owner, people will find it more entertaining to read and will probably understand the topic much better.
Brussels was fantastic! It was so great to visit all of the places we had been learning about in class and have discussions with people who work in these institutions every day. We also got to see different areas that the EU deals with like economics, communications, business, lobbying; essentially a little something for everyone in the class. Going to Brussels also showed me that a career in international politics could be very interesting (because I usually enjoy learning about US politics more) and could be a field that I might want to work in someday! And if you want to know about all of the great cultural (and food) activities we did while in Brussels there will be a whole post about that coming soon! 🙂